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This article is from Issue 56: Mar/Apr 2012

A Black and White Issue?

Tattoos are so common today, they hardly get a second thought. But should a Christian response be different?

"If I regretted my tattoos,” Amanda Jensen remarks, “it would be like other people wishing they had fewer freckles. Tattoos become a part of you, and eventually you forget about them.”

Amanda and her husband, Alex, sport their sleeves proudly. And for good reason: Amanda is one of St. Louis’ premier tattoo artists, and while the more reserved of the two, she is incredibly thoughtful about her craft. “It’s a little selfish,” she muses, “because my tattoos are a diary of my life that no one can read but me.”

The Jensens are at the center of the millennial Christian culture that sees no conflict between ardent love for Jesus and inking their bodies. Alex waxes eloquent on the “receive, reject, redeem” rubric that has become popular among younger Christians. To the Jensens, tattoos are firmly in the “redeem” category, as they open up a world of relationships within subcultures that have frequently been marginalized and neglected by the Church. But Alex and Amanda still sometimes experience that marginalization. While it doesn’t bother them (much), they recognize they aren’t that kind of Christian, namely the middle-class suburban kind.

For most younger Christians, tattoos are no longer icons of the liberated, edgy and non-legalistic culture that once differentiated them from the clean-cut Christianity of their parents. The tattoo has been domesticated, reduced from an icon of rebellion to a relatively acceptable form of self-expression. After all, if even Barbie has a tattoo, how controversial can they really be?

That’s right—Barbie. In October 2011, Mattel teamed up with Tokidoki to release a tatted-up collector’s edition of the iconic doll. Faux outrage on the Internet ensued, which only reinforced for most of America how little they cared. L’affaire tattooed Barbie felt like a trumped-up controversy designed to sell a product. After all, Barbie had been there before: In 2009, Mattel released a version that let girls choose the tattoos. Sales exceeded expectations. For most of middle America, tattoos aren’t even as controversial as Tim Tebow.

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